I’m excited about this new album from dear old friends. John and Tanya have both been playing music and writing songs since before the Berlin Wall came down. They’re now happily married and recording together, and this first proper album as a duo is a great payoff. Tanya’s always had a way with poignant story songs: “ballads” in the old sense of the word. John’s writing tends more towards wit, with an energetic shuffle and bounce reminiscent of early Indigo Girls. It’s folk in the broadest sense, and I think the release is well-timed. Acts like First Aid Kit, Wye Oak, Iron and Wine, and Fleet Foxes are helping make sincere, earnest songwriting and tight harmonies more visible among the musical blogosphere.
The album works well as a whole–a suprising cohesiveness, given two writers and songs written years, even decades apart. Standout songs include “Werewolf Night,” a wry look at late-night predators; “Euphrates,” a haunting song about faraway lovers; and “City of Dreams,” a bitter ode to poverty and desperation in a new city. You can hear history in their voices, a mutual understanding and harmony that come from countless late-night porch jams and coffeehouse dates. Highly recommended for any fan of indie folk or the singer-songwriter tradition. You can hear their music at The Story Is Everything.
She’s back with a new album! It’s quirky, it’s knotty, it demands attention. No, not Fiona Apple—Regina Spektor.
She’s a hip, waifish chamber pop workhorse, steadily releasing good albums for ten years now. After countless club dates and opening act sets (always a bridesmaid, Ms. Spektor), her songs are more polished, her profile more prominent. She’s still got bundles of indie cred in the bank despite a Top 20 album and a contract with Sire. This new album, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, is at least as good as her breakthrough Begin to Hope. Poignant songs of loss like “Firewood” and “Small Town Moon” sit alongside more fun pieces like “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and “Oh Marcello.” Original, eclectic, and rewarding, this is one of the best albums of the year.
Dearling Physique have come out with a new music video. The band hasn’t been around for long. I’d heard another of their songs a few months back and loved the hell out of it. I was hoping it wasn’t a fluke, and I’m glad that seems to be true. “Terrible Mind” is a fantastic single, combining vintage synths with the best of modern R&B (think of Janelle Monae, the Weeknd, or Cee-Lo Green) and an edgy goth attitude. I’m looking forward to much more from them, including a proper full-length release.
The broad collaborations that have long been standard in hip-hop are appearing more and more in pop music. Santigold’s new album Master of My Make-Believe features work from Karen O, Q-Tip, Dave Sitek, and a dozen others, and I wonder what effect this practice is going to have on music. We’re getting less and less of the musician as auteur—vaguely comforting if it’s Justin Biber or Kreayshawn, more problematic when the artist is Bjork or Santigold. Does collaborating with other artists, even other brilliant artists, water down that special something you get from a true musical visionary? Master of My Make-Believe is a good album, don’t get me wrong, but it’s full of kitchen-sink eclecticism; the album’s hard to take in as a whole. Having said that, it is, at a minimum, a mighty enjoyable listen. Santigold mixes Missing Persons-era New Wave, funky Busta Rhymes beats, and edgy New York post-punk with the perspectives of their collaborators, and I’ll be curious to see what I think of this album after a few more listens.
Santigold: Master of My Make-Believe
OK, this one’s pure self-indulgence. I’m not talking about Josquin des Prez or Thomas Tallis here. A conversation this week got me thinking about some of the earliest songs I remembered hearing as a child. I set forth to see what I could find and here are the results. I freely admit that some of the songs herein may be, well, bad.
A coworker recommended Radio Paradise to me and I’m mighty glad. This husband-and-wife team have been doing Internet radio since its beginning, and the gent was been in broadcast radio way before that. I am, in all humility, a pretty skilled DJ. I’m good at finding those connections between songs, at tracing a path through different musical styles without making the zig-zags too jarring. These DJs show that skill at its best. It’s all human-curated music (not randomly generated from a library), free, with no commercials. The format’s best described as a VERY broad Adult Album Alternative (AAA), and the station plays plenty of album cuts that never saw release on radio or TV. As I write, this, the last five tracks have been by Porcupine Tree, Supergrass, Radiohead, Neko Case, and U2. Radio Paradise is a great choice for streaming music online, especially for those moments when you don’t want to choose WHICH Pandora station or Spotify album to start with.
Saw Christian McBride play with his quintet Inside Straight this weekend. McBride’s probably my favorite working bass player: a virtuoso on his instrument, a skilled songwriter, a versatile and busy bandleader, and an eloquent spokesman for jazz. Inside Straight is a solid post-bop outfit with McBride on bass and a pack of players who are skilled, but not real flashy. A good show with a GREAT showing by drummer Carl Allen.
Silly Internet thing! Been a long time since I did one of these. A randomly generated soundtrack zombie apocalypse. Putting my bulky music library on shuffle and let’s see what happens. I’m cheating somewhat here because I have a lot of items in my library that aren’t available streaming. When that happens, I go down to the next song that I can find a source for.
1. Overall theme: “N.W.O.” by Ministry. This is already full of win, even if the rest of this playlist is songs from Disney movies.
2. Killing the first zombie: “Mambo Italiano” by Rosemary Clooney. All right, some comic relief. I get it–some cheesy Italian guy in a nightclub is trying to eat your brains, you have to keep the tables between him and you.
3. Chased by a horde: “Violent Dreams” by Crystal Castles. ‘Nuff said.
4. Killing a loved one: “Stoneface” by Veruca Salt. Couldn’t find a great version of this one online, but the song is PERFECT.
5. Finding a group of survivors: “Rusholme Ruffians” by the Smiths. All right, so we have fellow survivors, but they’re not very likable guys. I’m feelin’ it.
6. Meeting a new love interest: “San Liu” by Wu Man. Your love interest is a hot Asian girl/guy.
7. Making a final stand: “Everything Is Free” by Gillian Welch. Ah, one of those eerie bits where graphic violence is shown while stark acoustic music plays in the background.
8. Thinking we’ve survived it all: “Is That All There Is?” by pj harvey. Wow, that’s really perfect.
9. Discovering a bite mark: “Watch That Man” by David Bowie. “Watch that man / Oh honey watch that man / He talks like a jerk / But he could eat you with a fork and a spoon” OH COME ON
10. End credits: “It’s a Very Deep Sea” by the Style Council.
I was an early fan of Metric, at least for a non-Canadian. When their first full-length debuted (Old World Underground, Where Are You Now) it was my go-to CD for months. Nearly a decade on I’m a little surprised they’re still around. I figured the retro-synthpop sound would fall out of favor, but they’re one of many acts proving that the genre still has plenty of life and fun. Metric aren’t just treading water, either–Emily Haines and company have become better songwriters and have some of the best-produced albums in pop. If you want to bop around in your chair, give it a listen.
Metric – Synthetica
A couple of Brits are doing a podcast devoted to the library music of psychotronic films. There are 17 episodes of Eldiabolik’s World of Psychotronic Soundtracks as of this writing, and it’s just the sort of background music I love. This is the sound of spaghetti Westerns, women in prison, blaxploitation, cult horror, giallo, and B-movies.